Springwatch, Juvenile Pied Wagtail, Bird Boxes and Photographing Birds in Flight Part 2

July 15, 2016  •  1 Comment

Just recently I seem to be having my own personal live Springwatchhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qgm3 )which is great. A couple of weeks ago I sat by the river Tavy, Dartmoor in Devon, photographing Dippers in the pouring rain and I had the wonderful siting of a Stoat running along the riverbank opposite and scrambling up a couple of trees searching for food. Well this week on two occasions I had a stoat jump out on the road in front of me with a rabbit in its mouth. The first time it happened I had to stop because the rabbit was so big the stoat was really struggling to carry it. In the end it did manage it but I am glad I stopped and blocked the lane “Devon road”, because it forced a car, coming the other way, to stop and let the stoat across. If I had not stopped then I'm sure there would have been one more bit of roadkill. On the second occasion the rabbit was quite small and the stoat just ran from one side of the road to the other dragging the rabbit along.


The weekend went by without me doing any photography but to make up for it I took my camera along when I went out walking with my dog in the evenings. I got a photograph of an unknown bird ,I think it could be a Juvenile Skylark or Juvenile Meadow Pipit, see pictured below. As you can see it was on a gorse bush on Dartmoor and it was next to a male Stonechat. If anyone knows then please leave a comment and let me know.




After I walked the dog I drove to a spot where I know there are a few juvenile Pied Wagtails. Below is one image from the set I took.


Pied WagtailPied Wagtail


Not much happening down on our Nature Reserve on the edge of Dartmoor at the moment but I have been busy building bird boxes. I want to put up about ten boxes for Blue tits, Great tits, Treecreepers, Flycatchers etc. I will also build and put up two Owl / bird of prey boxes. Apart from bird boxes I will also build and put up some Bat boxes and Dormice boxes. Doing all this and slightly thinning out the trees in the wood should encourage wildlife to come and stay in the area. I have been looking and reading up on planting a small area of wild flowers in the field and possibly building a small pond at the bottom of the wood on the flat area before you get to the river Tavy. I will try and incorporate one of the small streams into it so that it will have fresh water running into it before spilling into the river.

To carry on from last week’s blog.

Bird photography is challenging enough for a wildlife photographer as it is, but taking photos of birds in flight takes it even further into the difficulty box. Fast autofocus and owning a camera with a fast frame rate help but it is still extremely difficult to get good bird in flight images because you also need good technique. The best tip I can give you is start to walk, then trot, and then run. What I mean by this is that you should start with big slow moving birds like Swans, Gulls etc., then move on to medium moving birds like Buzzards, Eagles etc. And then move onto small birds like House Martins, Swallows etc.

There are a couple of things you need to do before you start panning. First of all you need to setup your camera correctly and second you need to pick a good location to pan. To make it easy for yourself you should change you camera mode to shutter priority. This is because you need to choose and keep the shutter speed to your creative setting. If you choose aperture priority the shutter speed will move up or down as the light changes.

To stop all movement you need a shutter speed of 1500th second or more. The ISO could be set to anything as long as you achieve the correct shutter speed. Set an aperture to get all the wildlife in focus, f8 or near that is a good spot.

To get the wings and background blurred you can start off with a shutter speed of anything between 15th second to 200th sec or more depending on the effect you want. The ISO could again be set to anything but keep it low as you do not need a high shutter speed. The aperture does not matter; again f8 is good, as the extremities will be moving. So your main goal is keep the speed low.

Switch to continuous drive mode so that you can capture a sequence of shots with the wings in different positions.

Set your focus mode to AI Servo on Canon cameras or AF-C on Nikon cameras as the bird will be moving and set an autofocus point away from the central autofocus point. If you select the centre point although it is the fastest, you might have to crop your image afterwards depending on the composition you want. I usually set one of the points, in red below, outside the “partial metering area”, the circle in the centre of your viewfinder, and this aids the composition of my image.


Think about composition (Please read my previous blog on composition www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/ramblings-and-photographic-composition-for-a-wildlife-photographer-part-1) and use an area and background that compliments the colour of the bird. For example If it is a dark coloured bird then you can use the sky and if it's a light coloured bird then you can use trees, mountains or even the sea as a background, remember check the histogram and use  exposure compensation if needs be. Doing this also aids the autofocus in locking onto the bird. The image below is of a Fulmar, a light coloured bird, with the dark coloured sea in the background.


You will get a stronger image if there is more negative space in front of the bird than behind. Try and be at the same height as the bird or close to it rather than above or below. Also try and shoot with the sun or light coming from behind you, to get this you need to plan ahead.

Next is the slight problem area. Look at the area you are going to photograph birds in flight. If your lens will be pointing at the sky then you will need plus exposure compensation especially if it is a grey sky. You might still need it if the sky is blue with the odd white fluffy cloud (some hope!). The amount of compensation you’ll need could be anywhere between +0.3 right up to +2.3 of a stop. If your lens is pointing towards a darker background then you might need minus exposure compensation to not blow out the highlights or white feathers of the birds. If you want to take Birds in Flight photographs with your lens pointing to the sky then try and take them either early in the morning or late in the afternoon (golden hour) because at this time of day the low sunlight will light up the underneath of the bird.

You will need a lens of 300mm, 400mm or 500mm. Some photographers keep the image stabilisation on when panning. If the bird is moving from one side of me to the other then my image stabilisation in on but if it is moving all over the place then I switch it off. Newer lenses can cope, I believe, but older ones can struggle.

Do not use any teleconverters when panning as they do slow your autofocus down.

Some lenses have a distance switch on them which reduces the minimum focusing distance. If you switch this to get a minimum focus distance of at least 4 metres, because your subject will be further than this, it will also speed up your autofocus

Artic SkuaArtic Skua  

Once you have all this sorted there is just the minor thing of learning how to pan with your camera.

Panning, when done correctly, can show the beauty of an animal or bird in motion. You can use a fast shutter speed to stop all movement but a better image would be a slow shutter speed to stop the main body or head of the bird but blur the wings and background. Once again you need to get the eyes of the wildlife sharp. Be careful when panning because it is easy to get the wing tip sharp instead of the eye.


To pan properly without a tripod you should stand with your feet about shoulder width apart facing the background you want in your image. Keep your elbows tucked in and when you pan only pivot the top part of your body. Twist your torso to the left or right to pick up your subject in your lens. Get the active autofocus point on your subject and then move your lens and follow the subject. Whilst doing this try and keep both eyes open because you can track the subject better, to see where it is going and you can see what is coming up so you will know when to start pressing the shutter release button. Remember, if you are shooting in RAW, if you start shooting too early you could fill up your buffer before the subject gets to your desired background. Keep your feet firmly planted to the floor whilst panning. Do not stop shooting and panning just after your desired background, just keep going until your torso gets to the other side of the twist. You will be surprised how many keepers I have got “after” passing my desired background.



To make panning easier, especially when using heavy lenses, use a tripod or better still a monopod. If the pan is a short arc, 90 degrees, then I will use a tripod but if it is nearly 180 degrees then I will use a monopod. On a long pan I tend to trip over a tripod’s legs, but that might just be me. When using either I attach a Wimberley gimbal head ( http://www.wexphotographic.com/buy-wimberley-head-mk-ii/p1012216?mkwid=sisychuey_dc&pcrid=89741327099&kword=&match=&plid=&gclid=clu-wtqw9c0cfqpggwodlvwmqw  ) which I find a fantastic tool for panning. It is well made, very smooth movement, but a bit expensive, but if you have a good ball head then you can get a cut down version called a Wimberley Sidekick which can do a similar job for about half the price.

Now you are armed, what are you waiting for, get out there and get photographing. Good Hunting (with a camera).


Colin Mucklow(non-registered)
Hi Robin I would say this is a young Meadow Pipit.
Looking at the marking on the face and wings, the legs are pinkish.
Looking at the feathers and chest or so indicate a meadow pipit.
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